Fishermen plan to disrupt Russian military exercise off Irish coast

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Image source, Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

A group of fishermen is planning to peacefully disrupt Russia's plans to hold a military exercise off the coast of Ireland in February.

The chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO) has said the area is "very important" for members.

Patrick Murphy says they want to protect biodiversity and marine life.

But Russia's Ambassador to Ireland says controversy around the exercise is "hugely overblown".

On Monday, Yury Filatov held a press conference at the Russian Embassy in Dublin.

He said the planned exercises by Russian naval vessels was "not in any way a threat to Ireland or anybody else" and that no harm was intended by it.

Mr Filatov said three or four ships would be involved, but he did not know if missiles or submarines would be used.

He said: "There is nothing to be disturbed, concerned or anguished about and I have extensively explained that to our Irish colleagues."

Mr Filatov also said the exercise was a "non-story" which has become part of a "propaganda campaign" about an alleged Russian threat to Europe.

Image source, Rte
Image caption,
Mr Filatov said the exercise posed no threat

Meanwhile, Mr Murphy said he spoke to an official of the Russian Embassy on Tuesday afternoon.

He said the official told him "it would be reckless" for the fishing organisation to send boats out to intervene with the exercise.

Mr Murphy said he assured the official that the fishermen's organisation would not be sending boats out to specifically engage with the Russian Navy.

"We are letting them know that we will be fishing in our traditional fishing areas and if this has an impact on their exercise this would be considered a peaceful protest," Mr Murphy added.

'These warships shouldn't be having war games'

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Murphy said there were currently "half a billion tonnes" of blue whiting in the area that move up along the coastline, representing "a one million tonne fishery".

"This is a very important ground where fish come to spawn... and we don't know what's going on out here.

"We should be entitled to go fishing there, and if we're fishing there then these boats, these warships, shouldn't be having war games."

Mr Murphy said an issue of "real concern" was that their fishing gear at the back of their boats could get tangled with a submarine.

He has called for the government to intervene.

Labour Leader Alan Kelly has contacted Mr Murphy to say he will raise the matter in the Dáil (Irish Parliament).

On Monday, Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said he would be briefed on the situation by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, and that the minister would also brief the Cabinet on Tuesday.

Mr Varadkar said: "While the Russian military can, within the law, carry out these exercises off our waters and in our economic zone, they are certainly unwelcome and that has been communicated to the authorities."